diamond geezer

 Monday, August 11, 2014

Returning to my series visiting the highest point in each London borough, here's a run of four across the northern edge of Zone 2.

Hackney: Manor House

39 metres (29th out of 33) [map] [map]

Another east London borough, another lowly summit. Not that Hackney's exactly flat. Its northeastern edge rises fairly sharply from the Lea, and then there's Stamford Hill, of course. But the highest point in the borough is in the northwest corner, on the slopes of a peak that's actually in Haringey nextdoor, specifically within Finsbury Park. You can see Hackney's summit very clearly if you take the Piccadilly line to Manor House and emerge onto the broad street corner outside. Two arms of this crossroads head resolutely downhill, one south to Clissold Park, the other east towards Woodberry Down. But the other two, along the perimeter of the park, rise fractionally before starting their descent, and one of these minor bumps is the highest point in Hackney. The official list of London Borough Tops reckons it's the bump on the Seven Sisters Road, close to the Caribbean Community Centre and the lacklustre-looking Kent Hall Hotel. There are a fair few hotels in the vicinity, the large townhouses hereabouts seem to lend themselves, but in most cases the grand-sounding name looks more attractive than the reality. [3 photos]

My money, however, is on the highest point being a few yards along Green Lanes, roughly in line with the bus stop outside the tube station. The short row of shops on the Hackney side of the road consists of an off-licence, a taxi company, a betting shop and two kebab outlets, which is as near to stereotypical as any N4 parade gets. The big white house alongside looks like it used to be a hotel, the ornamental arched entrance out front has an Eastbourne seafront vibe, although the interior is now an awful lot of flats. Or you can have a pint at The Finsbury, the highest live music venue/pub in Hackney, although that's not necessarily a recommendation. There's more fun to be had beyond the iron railings in Haringey, under whose control the whole of Finsbury Park lies, with its flowerbeds and grassy spaces and avenues and tentative hilltop. The Park View Cafe in the Manor House corner looks somewhat twee from the front, with a fibreglass chef on sentry duty and three toadstools masquerading as table and chairs, although it's rather more inviting from the rear when the back wall comes down in decent weather. But that's just inside Haringey again, whereas Hackney's Borough Top's probably not somewhere you'd hang around for long.
by tube: Manor House   by bus: 29, 141, 253, 254, 259, 279, 341

Islington: Highgate Hill

100 metres (15th out of 33) [map] [map]

My journey to the top of Islington involved a bus ride up the Holloway Road to Archway, and thence up Highgate Hill. It's a relentless ascent, with barely a dip on the way, following the Great North Road on its escape from the centre of town. At Archway the A1 veers off to follow a 200 year-old cutting through the hillside, while the old route climbs past the Whittingtons (Hospital and Stone). On and on it climbs, eventually more than triple the elevation of Hackney's summit. But for Islington's purposes the climb runs out on the 100 metre contour, at the steeply-slanted junction with Hornsey Lane, where Camden and Haringey take over the remainder of the ascent. The divide is marked by three fine-roofed landmarks, one with a tower, one with a spire and the other with domes. The tower marks Linden Mansions, a part-whimsical turn of the century apartment block, the spire tops the Old Crown pub, long a place for travellers to rest, while the twin domes belong to St Joseph's RC Church, a listed Romanesque/Byzantine hybrid. [4 photos]

This yellow box junction is the official Borough Top, but I was tempted to walk east along Hornsey Lane towards another famous landmark. The road beyond the Georgian townhouses definitely dipped, but then rose again, and from the pavement outside the nursing home it was impossible to be certain which end was higher. If the latter, then St Aloysius' College may be the highest building in Islington, its "Founded 1879" looking somewhat incongruous on the front of a bland 21st century fa├žade. On the opposite side of the road is a flat-topped reservoir, often a sign of a municipal highest point, but that's in Haringey again. The famous landmark is just round the bend, maybe a metre lower, the Hornsey Lane Bridge. Formerly an arched bridge after which the neighbourhood is named, the cast iron replacement is one of the most notorious suicide spots in London. Its barbed metal rails wouldn't prevent a determined descent, although the view down the dual carriageway just might. From the Cheesegrater to the Shard, with the Gherkin and the Barbican between, the City's skyscrapers line up almost one by one. Best turn again, and walk away.
by tube: Archway   by bus: 143, 210, 271, W5

Haringey: Highgate Village

116 metres (9th out of 33) [map] [map]

Highgate Hill continues to rise for half a kilometre beyond the Islington border. It climbs past lovely Waterlow Park, past the big phone mast on Bisham Gardens, up to the heart of chichi Highgate Village. Here stationers and old school butchers nudge up to jewellers and chocolatiers, an almost precise antithesis to Hackney's Manor House parade. The shop that sells lottery tickets also does organic groceries, and the cupcakes in the pantry window have a few more sparkles than elsewhere. It's all really rather pleasant, if residentially unattainable. At the mini-roundabout where the turnpike once bent north is a tiny little florists, its potted blooms dwarfed by The Gatehouse, a well-disguised Wetherspoons in Tudorbethan style. More to Highgate's taste is the Red Lion and Sun on North Road, more gastro than boozer, alongside a very retro Total garage with a row of three pumps lined up outside. [3 photos]

Thanks to a topographical quirk, Haringey's the only north London borough whose highest point is on its southern border. So what's on the summit? That's long been requisitioned by Highgate School, or as it's more properly known Sir Roger Cholmeley's School at Highgate. Sir Roger established his charitable bequest in 1565, initially for the poor boys of the parish under a single teacher, but also offering up the chapel of ease to local residents. Considerable expansion took place later, and the enlarged brick chapel and most of the Big School buildings are a Victorian addition. It's the chapel that resides on Haringey's highest point, this and the surrounding graveyard with its weathered stones and the occasional obelisk. School's currently out for the summer, which helped when I wanted to take photos through the railings, but passing shoppers probably gave me enough funny looks anyway. To follow in my footsteps look out for the retro London Borough of Haringey sign at the top of Highgate Hill, complete with original 1965 'Eight Rays' logo before some branding team remoulded it.
by tube: Highgate   by bus: 143, 210, 214, 271

Camden: Hampstead Heath

134 metres (6th out of 33) [map] [map]

Camden boasts some of the best hills in the capital, which is pretty impressive for a Inner London borough. Primrose Hill and Parliament Hill fall within its bounds, but they're only 60- and 90-something metres high respectively, which for this project's purposes is insufficient. Instead maximum elevation is reached atop Hampstead Heath on the crown of the Hampstead and Highgate massif, wherever precisely that might be. There is some debate. I'd have expected the peak to be around Whitestone Pond, a triangular water feature located above the headwaters of the Fleet and Westbourne rivers. Originally a dew pond used by thirsty horses, it was later enlarged to become a shallow decorative feature, and very recently done over with wetland plants and white granite edging. I'd say it's an improvement, even if the council did insist on relocating the bus stop 100 metres further away purely for aesthetic reasons. [4 photos]

Close by is another covered reservoir, below which residential Hampstead tumbles down the hillside, and whose raised lid is probably the highest surface hereabouts. But the official Borough Top is a little further away, in a less thrilling location, along the sandy ridge that leads from here to Highgate. That the road from Jack Straw's Castle to The Spaniards Inn is arrow straight should be a hint that it's entirely artificial, as is also evidenced by the slight drop from the embankment on either side. But the needs of traffic have won through, with a tree-lined single carriageway bordered by a segregated cycle path and joggers' pavement. Nearly halfway along is a bus stop where the 210 rarely picks up passengers, adjacent to a path down into the woods and the end of a private drive leading to someone's phenomenally expensive house. It's here (on a slight hump) that the Ordnance Survey have marked their spot height of 134 metres, not just the highest point in Camden but the highest point in Inner London. You can rest awhile to celebrate in the bus shelter, or on one of the neighbouring weatherbeaten green benches. But I wouldn't linger long - this is no scenic spot, and there are far better views to be had both on and from the Heath nearby.
by tube: Hampstead   by bus: 210, 268

» 36 photos of London Borough Tops (three each, so far)
» List and map of London Borough Tops
» Previous reports: Inner East; Outer Northeast

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